President Donald Trump warned on Tuesday that the “nasty horrible’” coronavirus will get worse in the U.S. before it gets better, but he also defended efforts to fight the disease that has claimed more than 140,000 American lives in just five months.
He also professed respect for those that wear protective face masks. He pulled one from his pocket in the White House briefing room to show he was prepared.
After a three-month hiatus from his daily virus briefings, Trump returned to the podium, keeping the stage to himself without the public health experts who were staples of his previous events but keeping close to prepared remarks.
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Besides declaring support for masks as a way to fight the pandemic, he admonished young people against crowding bars and spreading the disease.
It all marked a recognition by Trump that the economic reopening he’s been championing since April — and, more importantly, his reelection — may need to be scaled back.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Trump press conference without a couple political dings. Along the way Tuesday, the president still worked in jabs at the news media and Democrats for focusing on disease-fighting shortcomings in the U.S. as the rest of world also struggles with the virus. He also belatedly addressed criticism of virus-testing delays that have hampered reopening plans.
“It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” Trump said from the White House. But he also touted a reduction in deaths and progress on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, which he referred to repeatedly as a the “China virus.” He continued his recent encouragement of Americans to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
“Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact,” he said. “I’m getting used to the mask,” he added.
Swaths of the country are now battling rising infections and growing deaths, and some states are once again having to close businesses and rethink school in the fall. Many retailers themselves are insisting their customers don masks.
For months, the nation’s top health experts have pleaded with Americans to wear masks in public and steer clear of crowds, calling those simple steps life-saving.
The early evening show at the White House came as the next stage of the federal government’s response to the pandemic was being crafted on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and White House officials were opening negotiations on a trillion-dollar-or-more “phase four” rescue package.
For weeks, White House aides have pressed Trump to grow more disciplined in his public statements about the pandemic. On Tuesday, he steered clear of what has been a favored talking point: that widespread testing for the virus in the U.S. “created” more cases.
Little more than three months from Election Day, Trump and his political team hoped that the podium spotlight would give him an edge against Democratic rival Joe Biden.
“The vaccines are coming, and they’re coming a lot sooner than anybody thought possible,” Trump promised.
As early as next week, the first possible U.S. vaccine is set to begin final-stage testing in a study of 30,000 people to see if it really is safe and effective. A few other vaccines have begun smaller late-stage studies in other countries, and in the U.S. a series of huge studies are planned to start each month through fall in hopes of, eventually, having several vaccines to use. Already, people can start signing up to volunteer for different studies.
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Health authorities warn there’s no guarantee — it’s not unusual for vaccines to fail during this critical testing step. But vaccine makers and health officials are hopeful that at least one vaccine could prove to work by year’s end. Companies already are taking the unusual step of brewing hundreds of millions of doses so that mass vaccination could begin if the Food and Drug Administration signs off.
Trump also acknowledged bipartisan criticism of delays processing testing results.
“We’ll be able to get those numbers down,” Trump said, saying his administration was working to improve the availability of rapid, point-of-care tests like those used to protect him at the White House.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told NPR Tuesday that he was glad Trump has begun to promote mask-wearing.
“If we, during those conferences, come out and have consistent, clear, noncontradictory messages, I believe it will be very helpful in getting people on the track of knowing the direction that we need to go to get this pandemic under control,” he said.
Biden, for his part Tuesday, launched into scathing criticism of Trump as he outlined the latest plank of his economic recovery plan, charging that Trump “failed his most important test as an American President: the duty to care for you, for all of us.”
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“He’s quit on you, he’s quit on this country,” Biden said.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump took to Twitter to claim that “by comparison to most other countries, who are suffering greatly, we are doing very well — and we have done things that few other countries could have done!”
The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths from the virus — but not on a per capita basis.
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have broken with the White House in seeking additional federal funding for testing and contact-tracing in the next relief bill.
And Trump’s return to the daily briefs wasn’t welcome by everyone in Washington, D.C., of course.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, in a news conference, encouraged White House aides to “keep Trump away from the podium,” calling the president “a threat to public health.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article